I take career development very seriously, and spend a fair bit of time on and offline talking to postdocs who are looking for help in moving their careers in new directions. I was one of them once (and may be again one day, who knows?), and I was incredibly fortunate to have a great mentor help me transition away from the bench when my lab career sputtered and died.
I am kind of a LinkedIn evangelist and also attend networking meetings with a couple of local groups, some science focused, others not so much. At one of these last year I met a local postdoc and we got to chatting. We've gone for beers a couple of times and I've done my best to offer ad hoc advice when it's been asked for; nothing formal, just offering experience and perspective. I wasn't convinced that hir mentor was taking hir career development seriously, and worried it was dead-end tech position that was being held to postdoc standards: you spend all day doing scut work, but are still expected to produce real data and papers and so forth...I firmly voiced my concerns once and left it that. This person seemed happy just puttering along, until recently.
I received an email from hir about how hir position was gradually being undermined from within the lab and how hir relationship with hir mentor had gone from indifferent to bad (as I expected when hir productivity was necessarily so low). There was a great position at local hospital being advertised, but zhe wondered if the job was beyond hir reach because of being stuck as a postdoc/tech for so long and not getting as much clinical experience as might have benefited hir.
Although I didn't know anyone in this department at the hospital I went on LinkedIn and saw someone only once removed my network who worked there. And in addition I was directly linked with a former colleague who knew this individual personally. I was able to facilitate an introduction and then an informal meeting between my postdoc friend and the person recruiting at the hospital. The meeting went well and my chum was encouraged to apply for the position. We spent quite a bit of time on hir resume and cover letter - after all, no one outside the lab gives a damn how good your western blots are, they care about your experience in delivering output on time and under budget, for example.
Fact: Most postdocs do not appreciate all the "soft" (non-bench) skills they possess that should be nurtured at the same time as patch-clamp technique JUST IN CASE you need your Career "Plan B".
Fact: Most mentors do not appreciate all the "soft" (non-bench) skills that should be nurtured at the same time as patch-clamp technique JUST IN CASE their postdoc needs Career "Plan B".
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got an email this morning and this is what it said:
"I just got offered the job! I would like to thank you for all of your help. I don't think I could have done this without you."
This makes it all worth while. There is Life After the Bench.